Second Mile Haiti

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

More Birthdays

26 and 27. Now I know what you are probably thinking. You girls are getting too old to be fussing over birthdays. Birthday fun is meant for 6- and 10-year olds. And really, if you insist on grown-up birthday fun, it should be reserved for the sacred years of 30, 40, and 50. Notice I left out the infamous 21st birthday? Yes, I may finally be old enough to recognize that twenty-one, is not a grown-up age.

Jokes aside. I want you to hang with me. All this fussing is for a good cause. 

I have a few things to tell you about birthdays. And you can get to know us a little, while we're at it.

Among the expats in Haiti, which Jenn and I belong to for obvious reasons, 'birthday' is less of a noun and more of an action verb. I think it might be because those participating in the birthday festivities are equal parts happy to have a reason to gather and cognizant of the fact that even though our friendships are young and our ties are loose, we are a rag-tag family for whatever length of time we will all be living in Haiti. And families need to celebrate each other's birthdays. 

There have been pancake breakfasts, midnight teas, and no shortage of dance parties. There was this one party where a Haitian party guest brought goat soup which I’m sure is typically delicious but on this night I was distracted by the goat’s skull that sat in the middle of the serving tray. Garnish, I suppose. It was a feast to remember! There was another time when our neighbor was presented with a hand-made Owl piñata at her surprise party. It was made by her crafty roommate in Papier Mâché, pronounced "papper mAh-chay," emphasis on the ‘Ah' (because the birthday girl was British). Classic, yet oh-so original. This party will be remembered for generations (which in expat terminology is roughly 2 years). 

We live in this weird community of people who are nothing alike yet have everything in common. It’s an apartment complex of sorts, unique in that, aside from a handful of Haitian exceptions, everyone who lives here hails from another place...Pakistan, Ghana, India, Sweden, Canada, Switzerland... and New York City. I’ve never experienced anything like it except college, which was much less diverse. It really is a great set-up for potlucks, networking, and birthday parties. It’s also perfect for community composting and borrowing each other’s baking dishes, but that’s not my point. 

So what will I do for my birthday? Well, if you and I do not know each other personally, then we best get this one thing out on the table. I, Amy Syres, am the epitome of introverted.  

It should be no surprise to you dear reader, that I have never had a birthday party in my adult life. Now, if we do know each other, than don’t you dare get any ideas; I intend to continue this trend so please, PLEASE do not throw me one. It would put a serious strain on our friendship. Plus, come party time, I would just retreat to my room lock the door and hide under my yoga mat, thoroughly embarrassing myself, and you. So don’t bother.

Instead I think we may go out to dinner on Friday and/or enjoy one of the several brunch spots in Cap Haitien on Saturday morning. We can pretend it’s like any other weekend and it will make me very happy to slip by this calendar day without too much fuss. 

I will however, shamelessly commemorate the advent of my 27th year with a trip to the Tourist Market. This wonderful place is the spot where we take visitors to buy metal lizards and braided yarn bracelets with ‘Haiti’ inscribed on their faces. There you will find no shortage of artisans and vendors pushing handmade dresses and painted wooden figurines from the mouths of their overflowing shops while saying things like “it’s free to look” and “come inside, very cheap price!” It’s also the place where you will find me at Christmas, and New Years, and Valentine’s Day and the first day of Summer, absolutely exploiting these “holidays” in order to justify a moderate offloading of cash and an excessive uploading of stuff.  I just love me some metal art and some carved trinkets! Really, I do. You should see our house. 

At least when it’s my birthday Jenn usually buys the items for me which makes me feel only slightly better about the splurge.

Jenn is my opposite. While I light up at the thought of a woven basket and a quiet brunch, Jenn likes to spend her special day surrounded by people (fun people); the more the merrier. 

April 1st 2014 will mark no less than three birthday taco nights for miss Jenn. 

No joke. ;)

Much like the April 1st of 2012 and the April 1st of 2013 there will be zesty margaritas and homemade salsa. Once something has been fun or tasty the first time, Jenn’s sure to look forward to the same places, people, and treats in subsequent years. She loves tradition. Like gluten free chocolate chip cookie cake for dessert. Which reminds me, dear neighbors, we best do our best to find some decorating icing-preferably blue and green-- because Jenn really loved her cookie cake last year…For Jenn, the closest we can get to a duplicate extravaganza, the better. 

She loves to be in the middle of a crowd...revving the conversation, serving the drinks, making sure people are fed. There’s a feast, but she forgets to eat. Girl loves her birthday. 

Now, I have been going on and on about birthdays for awhile now. I mean I’m generally pretty wordy but this has been down right excessive—on purpose. I wanted to make a point to convey that yes, although we will be turning an awkward 26 and 27 years old, Jenn and I really are making a deal, even if it isn’t a big deal, about our birthdays. And truth is, these two days won’t look very different than they did at 23, 24, and 25. Nonetheless, we commemorate. 

And I’m guessing that you do too.

While you read, I wanted you to think about your own birthday. And about how you help others celebrate theirs. Do you have a bad habit of spending too much on not-needed birthday gifts for people? Or like me, too much on yourself? Do you have kids? How do they like to celebrate? What are your traditions? 

I hoped you would think about how it feels to age and how it feels to celebrate the life of the people you love. 

It really is a big deal you know, a year in time. 

Marie Ange turned two while she and her mom were at our facility. I wonder how many people doubted that she would live to see that day. We didn’t do anything special on that day, not even a birthday crown or a piece of cake. Although we should have. I think we were just really busy. When Marie Ange turned two she wasn’t out of the woods yet. She still looked like this. 

a few days before her 2nd birthday - back down to 9 lbs - readmitted to Second Mile

Up until this point she had only looked as good as the photo below, taken 6 weeks earlier on the day that Marie Ange and her mom left for home, after their first 8 weeks of recovery at Second Mile. At 21 months old and 12 lbs she was still fragile. A few weeks later a nasty bout of diarrhea caused her to plummet back down to an emaciated 9 lbs. 

I wonder what was going through her mom’s mind on that day September 10th 2013, her 2nd birthday. If instead of rejoicing, she was thinking about all the ups and downs...the uncertainty. 

July, going home 2 months older and 3 lbs heavier.
Starting in September we did another 8 weeks of 'recovery and empowerment' and a second-chance business.
Now Marie Ange looks like this. 
Not bad, hey?

taken January 2014 - 2 month's after going home - a follow up visit
It's been 4 months since Marie Ange and her mom left Second Mile. She's made it halfway to her 3rd birthday. Her mom seems happy, appears healthy, and as has a successful business. She even has love in her life and a baby on the way, a planned and wanted pregnancy. I just get this feeling that she will be celebrating, actually celebrating Marie Ange’s 3rd birthday. In true Haitian tradition there will likely be a fancy new dress and a ‘#3' themed photo shoot. 

If there is, we will probably be given one of the prints. I will then ask mom if I can post the photo here, so that everyone who has been a part of Marie Ange’s story, everyone who has given to Second Mile, and to those of you who play a role in manufacturing Medika Mamba and to those who are donating it for this very reason, will be able to see your impact.

And now it’s time to talk about how we hope to make this birthday fundraiser about more birthdays. We are asking you to give to Second Mile Haiti so that moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, can usher their children into each new year of life with an added measure of certainty. Of course nothing is certain, every day and every hour of life is a precious gift. There are just certain things, which I believe shouldn't have to be so uncertain. Tragic accidents and terminal illness aside, mothers everywhere should be able to rest in the security of daily food for her children, clean water for drinking, and the means to obtain medication when her children are sick. 

We see a lot of moms for whom this isn’t the reality…they don’t always have food, they can’t always afford clean drinking water, and they aren’t sure what to do about sickness because the hospital is far and the fees are too much. 

They aren't sure about much of anything, except that they love their kids. We are trying to change these uncertain parts for one family at a time, starting with one malnourished child at a time. 

On a personal level, we rally behind the groups and individuals who are championing causes and campaigns which aim to change the systems of inequality and injustice that collide to make it nearly impossible for impoverished Haitian women and the children of impoverished Haitian families to rise and stand. We hope for a breaking of these chains and a surge of employment and improved human rights for all. And while we are hoping and collaborating and advocating to these ends, our little organization- Second Mile Haiti- takes up a little space with a few women who are actually hurting now, whose children are actually on the brink of that first or second birthday. 

We are little, but we have big goals. We believe that in order for a child to remain successfully healthy families must 1) know how to keep their child healthy and 2) have the means and resources to do so. 

In Haiti approximately 77% of the population live on less than $2/day. 80% of the adult population are unemployed. And their children? 1 in 14 Haitian children will not live to see her 5th birthday. 

Our starting point is women who do not have a stable income, most of whom did not enjoy the privilege of secondary education (or even primary education in many cases) and most of whom did not have the luxury of choosing when and under what circumstances they became mothers. 

And as if that doesn't sound problematic enough, they have a sick baby and a handful of older children who will always be on the verge of illness unless their nutrition improves. 

What we do costs money. 
But it’s worth it. Don’t you think? 

Marie Ange (18 months) - May 2013 - First day at Second Mile
You can partner with us! Now, during our birthday weeks. In two weeks (starting today and ending April 2nd) we would like to raise at least $10,000 to support our efforts and get on good financial footing for the coming months. 

There's no magic number to give but we do have some [fun, because it's a fun-draiser after all] birthday related suggestions. 

Donate the cost of a birthday card, we don’t have a mailbox anyway. ;)  

Donate the amount of your age or your children’s ages.

Donate the year of your birthday ('88, '63, '54--the older you are, the cheaper it is!)

Donate what you would spend on yourself at your next birthday, 

or the cost of a party, or a fancy dinner.

Or just give- generously- because your gifts mean more birthdays for children in Haiti. 

Donate because you have birthday traditions. And they don’t yet. 

Donate because you tend to spend too much on the frivolous while parents in Haiti are borrowing money to bury their children because they didn’t have money for food. 

Remember the goal is more birthdays! We can make a difference for one family at a time. 

Donate now and often.
Online or by check.  
These families thank you. 

For more information about Second Mile please read some of the previous blog posts, or visit our website and have a look around. 

our mailing address:
Second Mile Ministries
5251 W. Desert Falcon Ln. 
Tucson, AZ

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